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July Fourth, Food, and Failure

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Some think that July 4th is about independence or freedom or revolution or patriotism. The current president seems to think it’s about militarism. But I know the deeper truth.

The Fourth of July, like every other holiday, is about food. Often of the unhealthy variety, and always too much of it. Holidays are not helpful for someone newly committed to a healthy eating plan. First, there’s the smell of fatty dead flesh sizzling on grills throughout the land. Luckily, this is not a temptation for me, a long-time vegetarian. No dead cow or pig passes my lips. (Except for that time I bit into cleverly disguised bacon at a wedding reception and had to decide whether to swallow or spit in front of the cute guy I was talking to. I spat. He left.)

But as soon as I hear the crumpling of a potato chip bag, my hunger hormones start hoppin’. I’ve been learning about these hormones through Noom, my new weight-loss program. Noomers are into biology and psychology and like to throw around terms like “ghrelin” (“feed me” messengers) and “CCK” (“no more, thanks” messengers). Such knowledge helps me realize that it’s not just an inner evil monster that forces me to overeat, but a complex web of internal and external interactions. Knowledge is power, and I’m empowered to make a daily eating plan and stick to it because I know I am in charge, not the evil monster.

Holidays are another story though. Oh, I had a plan. I understood the challenge. I arrived at my neighbor’s with healthy tabbouleh salad, a giant bowl of raw veggies, and veggie dogs for the grill.

I also took a six-pack of beer, because hallelujah, I found out that Noom considers beer to be a “yellow” food (moderation) as opposed to my preferred Cabernet, a “red” food (limited consumption). My plan allows more yellow calories than red. I made this happy discovery just hours before going to my neighbor’s cookout. I was so excited about it that my first beer was gone in ten minutes. Well, I could nurse the second . . . you see where this is going. Alcohol is not known for boosting self-control, and the whole deal went south.

I dutifully logged my intake on the Noom phone app when I got home: every teaspoon of full-fat mayo, handful of chips, enriched white-flour hot dog bun, plate of pasta salad. I ate way more of that pasta salad than the healthy tabbouleh salad I’d brought. Epic fail. 900 calories over my daily goal.

Funny thing is, even what feels like an epic failure was still considerably less than I would have eaten before Noom. And you know what? That was yesterday. It’s over. I’m free from it. No shame, as I wrote earlier this week. Turns out that my Independence Day — new-found freedom from regret, shame, and self-flagellation — is July 5th this year.

Onward!

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Weight Loss: The Weight of Shame

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Let’s talk about weight loss, shall we? I don’t particularly want to, but I think that’s one reason I should.

At long last, I have embarked on the weight loss journey, and the associated baggage could sink a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

Being overweight is a heavy burden in so many ways. Your body hurts, you’re short of breath, you have zero energy, you turn down invitations to do fun things because you don’t want to embarrass yourself or slow others down, you wear baggy clothes because you’re ashamed. Ah – there it is: shame. For me, that’s the heaviest load. And it’s why I don’t like talking about my weight.

As I’ve worked on my memoir with my insightful writing group, I’ve realized how shame has shaped my emotional and psychological makeup. I know I’m not the only one, partly because of my pastoral work, and also because my blog posts dealing with shame are perennially popular.

I’ve decided to be done with it. Done with shame.

Shame leads to secrecy, and as they say in the twelve-step world, “You are only as sick as your secrets.”

A man once told me, “if you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me.” At the time I was horrified. I’ve since learned that many, many people feel this way, or used to before they got themselves on a healing path. I felt that way, too, though I kept it a secret even from myself.

The thing about being overweight is that you can’t keep it a secret. You walk around wearing this big ol’ SHAME sign all the time. Sometimes when you see a photo or catch sight of yourself in a shop window, it’s like a kick in the gut. Shame can very easily turn into self-hatred. And once you’re in that head-space, it’s almost impossible to lose weight because you end up believing that 1) you are too much of a loser to control your eating, and 2) you aren’t worthy of looking and feeling well anyway.

I applaud the “I’m fat and I’m proud” websites & blogs. Ditching the shame is long overdue. Work on your self-esteem, don’t let others define you, own your inner and outer beauty, etcetera. All great messages. But being overweight is not just a psychological challenge to be overcome and it’s not just about how you’re viewed by yourself or others: it’s a direct threat to health and well-being.

Some “body positivists” and “fat activists” now promote the idea that obesity can be healthy. I don’t find that one bit helpful. Being overweight is not a desirable state of being, and it doesn’t help me to pretend that it is. I want to be healthy, I want to live a long life. Heart, joints, arthritis, diabetes, blood pressure, sleep apnea, cancer risks — we know all this stuff.

I’m sure some people won’t appreciate my view. That’s OK. We all have our own journeys. The journey I’ve chosen is the Noom Weight Loss journey. You’ve probably seen it advertised on social media — Lord knows it seems to be everywhere. I haven’t tried a lot of other programs, so I can’t speak to them, but I know Noom is working for me.

I’m eleven pounds down in about a month. I’ll likely be writing more about this; it’s certainly occupying a lot of my mental space these days. For now I just wanted to say, “Hey, I’m done with shame. I’m losing weight and I’m damn proud of myself!”

This is me. Working on myself.

Memoir Madness

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MEMOIR MADNESS

The good news is, today I wrote almost 1,300 words. I know that’s not much compared to the over-achieving masses who will participate in National Novel Writing Month in November, dashing off 1,667 words every day for 30 days in pursuit of a 50,000-word novel. But it’s pretty good for me. Yesterday was only 500 words, and it was crap.

The bad news is, only about 350 of today’s words have the slightest chance of contributing to my final word count because I went on a 400-word digression that ended in a conundrum (about which I will tell you), and because I got mired in shame.

The downside of searching for patterns and themes in your life is that when you find them — or they find you — they may not be the lovely themes and patterns you had imagined were the narrative of your life. Alarmingly, my redemptive spiritual coming-of-age story seems to be all about shame and secrecy. Mind you, neither “shame” nor “secrecy” appear anywhere in my chapter outlines (such as they are), yet every scene leads me there.

I knew that the alcoholic father/enabling mother business would produce a few sentences on shame, but when your alcoholic father is also an undercover CIA agent in Miami during the Cuban missile crisis, the secrets can multiply quickly. Next thing you know, you’re writing about stealing your friend’s stuffed mouse, and your sister’s souvenir coin, and the shiny set of keys dangling from the door of the shiny new Dodge at the dealership, and you’re thinking, “This isn’t what my memoir is about.”

So then you take a break from your memoir and you draft a blog post about shame, which you start thinking is not half-bad, and so you begin revising and playing with words and researching outlets that might publish something like that, but while you are doing this, you remember that last spring you were working on a piece for the New York Time’s Modern Love column and so you find that and start revising it, and then you are googling your dead ex-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend and so you stop.

At some point, I also searched “shame” in my blog archives and discovered that I’ve written 59 separate posts that at least mention it. This makes 60. I may soon have to acknowledge its existence.

Now about that 400-word digression that ended in a conundrum: As an ethical memoirist, if someone told you a story when you were a child and you have always believed it to be true but then you find out it’s not technically true, actually not even close, can you still use the story without fessing up that it’s not true after all? If everyone involved is long dead? I’m asking for a friend, of course.

And – BAM! Another 482 words, done.

 

In Honor of National Coming Out Day

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I want to recognize and celebrate National Coming Out Day, even if I don’t seem to be able to string together two sentences lately. I used to get stressed out when I had nothing to offer the empty page or the blank blog, but these days I am being kind to myself.

It is what it is (or isn’t).

Like many Americans, I am alternatively depressed, angry, stunned, or terrified by the raging chaos in the White House that has spewed onto the international stage. The result of the jarring tug-of-war in my head is a kind of creative paralysis. I’m not even writing in my personal journal, which is pretty unusual. It’s almost as if any type of reflection is dangerous — I need to be detached at the moment.

Still, on some occasions we must rise above, and I deem National Coming Out Day to be one of those occasions.

The pain and confusion experienced by most LGBTQ people at some time in their lives has deeply affected me in ways that I won’t go into right now. I have seen the utter misery of someone who is unable to come out of the closet, and I have witnessed the ebullient joy of someone finally being true to who they are.

I honor the courage of my friends and family who have struggled, and I salute you today — in or out of the closet. May there come a day when all feel safe being themselves.

Today and everyday I reject judgment, intolerance, hatred, and bigotry, most especially when it purports to be connected with Jesus Christ. That spirit does not come from the Jesus I know.

“The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (The Bible, Galatians 5:22-23.)

Period. And amen.

An Epidemic of Shame in the U.S.

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An Epidemic of Shame in the U.S.

There are aren’t enough words to describe our collective cycling emotions since the Tuesday of Darkness.

After church on Sunday, we gathered for prayer and began by sharing how we were feeling. Strong words cascaded around our circle: betrayed, heartbroken, outraged, terrified, grieving, overwhelmed, hurt. Many were afraid on behalf of at-risk people that they care for: teachers of Hispanic kids, nurses of low-income people, caregivers of handicapped people, parents of little girls and children of color.

These are good people, people who follow the biblical mandate to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God.” They are reacting the way I would imagine Jesus would react to the ascendency of a man who preaches hate, violence, and racism. They are deeply grieved.

I’ve had all of those feelings and then some, but the one that surprises me most is shame. I am ashamed of my fellow Americans, ashamed of my fellow Christians who voted for the president-elect, ashamed of my country. I find myself whispering over and over: “I thought we were better than that, I thought we were better than that.”

I don’t usually take on corporate or institutional shame. I have enough of my own personal shame to keep me busy for a lifetime. This isn’t guilt, which I’ve heard many folks express. I wasn’t complacent. I donated. I volunteered. No, this is pure shame. It’s hard to avoid the fact that my country has put the whole world in deep jeopardy. And I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

I need to pray and meditate and journal. And it’s good to know I’m not alone in this.

My most popular blog post of all time remains a post from four years ago entitled What Color is Shame? It fascinates me that so many people search that question on Google. Just weird. I get a few hits on the story each day from all around the world, mostly England.

But since last Tuesday? I am getting 10-15 hits every single day, all from the United States of America.

Take care of yourselves, friends.

sympathy card

Are You Faking It?

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Everyone knows that everyone else feels like a fake, right? The term Impostor Syndrome has been around almost forty years, and media outlets regularly do stories on it as if it’s just been discovered.

You would think that knowing we’re not alone would help. Yet somehow, having company doesn’t make us feel any less like a fraud. It’s as if we think we are the only genuine fake because we are comparing our insides to everyone else’s outside persona.

 When clinical psychologists described the syndrome in 1978, they thought it was unique to women. My guess is that women were just more willing to talk about it. Now researchers say that all types of people experience this phenomenon, especially if they feel different from others because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or other reasons.

I first became aware of it when a good-looking, successful, middle-aged male told me tearfully that “if people really knew me, they’d know I’m a fake. They wouldn’t like me.” I was stunned and deeply saddened that someone could feel that way.

At age eighteen, I was so out of touch with my own emotions that I didn’t know I felt the same way about myself!

Whatever you do, don't take off your mask!

Whatever you do, don’t take off your mask!

Just Say No to Condemnation

As a church leader, I hear the sentiment expressed over and over, in different words: “I am not good enough.” Always in a confessional or shame-filled tone.

Well, hell, of course you’re not good enough to please the scolding, shaming parental voice in your head! You are a human being, flawed and vulnerable and doing your best to muddle through life.

It’s a horror and a crime that many so-called Christian communities enthusiastically add to the judgmental, condemning voices in our heads. Shame! Sin! You’re going to burn in eternity!

Well, thank you.That was super helpful.

Those condemners are nothing like the God they claim to represent. I can’t know God fully, and neither can they. But I do know that if a voice in your head or a belief about yourself is not loving, it does not come from God, because God is love.

“As Yourself”

When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, he said to love God with everything you’ve got. And then he said to love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27). We are meant to be overflowing with love and compassion and grace towards ourselves.

We must first learn to love ourselves before we can properly love others from a place of healthy humility and self-acceptance. When we accept how beloved we are, just as we are, we won’t need to achieve or perform or prove ourselves. We won’t need to compete or manipulate. We can just be real. Now that’s freedom!

Thanks for the daily prompt of “fake,” WordPress.

Lessons From the Fall: Saying Yes

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The woman walked slowly across the parking lot, clearly not caring that her wrinkled blue scrubs were getting soaked with rain. She seemed bone tired, like she had just come off a twenty-four hour shift. Still, when she saw me wrangling a grocery cart with my left hand, trying not to involve my broken and braced right arm in the maneuvering, she didn’t hesitate.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

I looked her straight in her tired eyes and said, “Yes.”

This may not sound like much to you, but I think I felt the sidewalk tremble under my feet. You see, I never, ever answer yes to that question.

I haven’t completely figured out where my inability to accept help comes from, despite discussing this with my therapist numerous times. I am independent to a fault — there’s a fierceness to it that’s not healthy.

Back off, I got this!

Back off, I got this!

My therapist suggests that growing up in an alcoholic home meant I did not get what I needed, and so I learned to fend for myself and stopped asking for help. Maybe.

Or it could be in my blood.

My dad was a Texan, and I was taught that having Texan ancestry meant I could do anything I put my mind to. By myself. (The Alamo and all that.) Then there’s the British blood from Mom’s side, which signals my psyche that any sign of “weakness” is cause for embarrassment.

Somewhere I picked up the notion that there’s shame in needing help . . . that I should be able to do everything by myself and that there must be something fundamentally flawed in me if I can’t.

My discomfort may also be left over from olden days, when my self-esteem was nonexistent. I couldn’t believe anybody would truly want to help me, worthless as I was. Perhaps at some level I’m afraid if I “trouble” someone to help me, they might not like me — ah, those hobgoblins of old.

Do you find it hard to accept help, or am I alone in my neurosis here? If you can relate, have you ever wondered why you are like that? It doesn’t make sense to me — we are communal creatures, biologically made to thrive in help-groups.

Funny thing is, I like helping people. It makes me happy. So why would I withhold that pleasure from others? Maybe it was my imagination, but I think that the tired woman in the blue scrubs was walking with a little spring in her step after she helped me to my car.

Lesson number two from my fall: practice saying yes once in a while.

Related: You can find lesson number one about the illusion of control at this link.

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